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Impact Engineering Retention This Month – 3 Tips for Tech Leaders

Ashley Swanson

December is a pivotal time for retention that managers can overlook, distracted by the year-end quotas, performance reviews, and team time-off. Job turnovers tend to spike in January—companies ramp up hiring with a refreshed budget, and employees leave after bonuses and the holidays pass. The demand for engineers, already sizable before the pandemic, has exploded thanks to more companies adapting to the seller’s market by offering an employee-centric work culture.

This month, tech leaders can offset future attrition in three impactful ways. Optimizing your engineering team’s retention rate doesn't happen overnight, but these tips are building blocks to a larger organizational strategy for keeping your developers.

Open-Door Conversations

One focus of December can be on setting up thoughtful meetings between the engineering team members and their managers. The purpose of these check-ins is to create an open-door conversation for developers to share their experiences, stresses, and perspectives about the workplace.

Think of it as calibration through conversation. If an engineer is thriving and engaged, that’s great, let’s carry that velocity into the new year by identifying and replicating the good aspects.

If the engineer is burnt-out and disengaged, this conversation is an opportunity to learn as a manager, what’s failing your employee, and set a goal for improvement for the next year. For someone thinking about leaving, this acknowledgment from a manager can help reduce immediate burnout and can cause your engineer to reconsider quitting.

To seed a productive conversation, give them a few topics to think about ahead of time, like:

  • How is your experience working with your team? Have there been opportunities to work with other people outside of your team? How was it?
  • What aspects of your work environment do you prefer, or what things could be better? When do you feel most productive, and what contributes to that productive mindset?
  • How can I, as your manager, do a better job of advocating you, and your well-being at this company?
  • Are there any interesting skills, projects or resources you’re excited to learn about?

The point of this check-in is to listen and learn if an individual developer is indeed thriving at work, similar to the check-in process during technical onboarding. As a manager, acknowledge the engineer’s outlook and offer up more future flexibility to build up a support system tailored to their career path.

Equity Checks and Rewards

To help tackle future turnover, set aside time this month to do an equity check on your teams. Are people being paid fairly for their work and performance? Use December to tackle one of the roots of attrition: pay gaps and salary market rates.

We suggest analyzing the salary data for your team against the going market rate, then create a proposal for the senior leadership team. Fixing a salary disparity may be beyond the scope of December, but you can point out to leadership how investing in your current talent is an investment that pays off in the long term.

Beyond a pay adjustment, think about celebrating the small wins that had a big impact on your team’s success. Acknowledge good work–especially non-technical work–that improved your team’s cohesion, maybe an engineer took on a mentorship role or tackled some of the team’s glue work this year. It can be as simple as a thank you or as big as a team bonding moment, award-show style. Your employees will remember how much you value their contributions, both technical and intangible.

Cleaning Your [Knowledge] House

Typically, December is a time of slowdown for tech companies. But it’s a great time to do an information house cleaning. Let the new year be a motivator to do a knowledge check on your organization. 

Just like end-of-year music lists, ask your developer team what were the top documents they constantly accessed and referenced this past year. You might be surprised what makes the engineering top ten charts. This itself becomes a great resource to improve your onboarding plans, as new hires next year will be able to learn from the best sellers right away.

This sets up the question of what are the most annoying or clunky documents in your knowledge base. Cleaning up your documentation can erase barriers for your engineers and unblock their future workflow, cutting down on a lot of time-waste and frustrations. Plus, the process of updating information can help improve engineers' soft skills, which is another way to  invest in the team’s development.

Make December Count

 It can be easy in December for engineers to lose sight of why they were excited to join your company and its mission. By taking the time to reflect with your team on their accomplishments and challenges they faced this year, it can help underscore what they found meaningful in their job.  

Retention is about building an environment of success for all. Engineers will be more invested in a company that shows equal investment in their well-being.

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